On Delaying the State of the Union Address

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States provides, in part, as follows:

“[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend for their consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient ….”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has indicated that President Trump is not welcome to deliver the State of the Union address in the Chamber of the House of Representatives as long as the current government shutdown lasts. Although the Constitution does not provide that the President shall deliver his view of the State of the Union to the Congress every January (or even annually), nor indicate that the President needs an invitation from the Speaker of the House to do so, that’s the way it’s gone throughout my reasonably long lifetime. I’ve seen recent media accounts reporting that except in a relatively few nonpartisan instances, each of our Presidents since Woodrow Wilson in 1913 have come to Capitol Hill and delivered a State of the Union address.

Anyone that digs far back into these pages will find that I have repeatedly lambasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his refusal to allow either Senate hearings or a Senate vote on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Sen. McConnell’s motives were blatantly partisan; he realized that hearings would demonstrate that Judge Garland was a well-qualified candidate for the Supreme Court, and that the Senate’s inevitable rejection of the nomination (because Judge Garland was considered too liberal for conservatives) would be castigated as flagrantly political. Mr. McConnell’s actions constituted an abject dereliction of duty.

I don’t believe that those of us that advocate for adherence to the rule of law – or even simply to our traditions – should feel free to abandon that stance when maintaining it is less comfortable. Although Ms. Pelosi originally cited security concerns as a subterfuge for delaying the President’s Address, it is glaringly obvious that she wishes to prevent the President from using the Address to assert his view of our need for the border wall – and to cast blame for the current government shutdown on Democrats – while leveraging Congressional trappings to enhance his credibility.

I find the President’s assertions regarding the need to extend a southern border wall to be based on fabrication and bigotry; given his messaging, I consider Mr. Trump’s “Wall” to be, symbolically, akin to the Nazi Swastika. He is an unscrupulous reality show charlatan that manipulates a segment of our people’s darkest fears and instincts for his own advantage. I have sympathy for Ms. Pelosi’s desire to deny the President an august forum to spread disinformation with overtones of racial bias. In the context of the current dispute, it was an adroit maneuver, and I acknowledge that it may have avoided a fraught scene that every American would find alarming. It nonetheless seems to me that her refusal to allow the President to speak until the shutdown ends constitutes an abandonment of her responsibilities not that unlike Mr. McConnell’s actions with regard to Judge Garland.

Mr. Trump is the President of the United States. The Constitution mandates that he provide Congress information regarding the state of nation from time to time (now, by longstanding custom, in January on Capitol Hill), “… and recommend for their consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient ….” The fact that what Mr. Trump “judge[s] necessary and expedient” is abhorrent to many of us is not, in my view, sufficient ground to deny him the House pulpit. Although this is an extreme (and hopefully unique) example of such a virulent dispute, what happens the next time that the President and the Speaker are from different parties? Would it have been appropriate for former Republican House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan to have refused to invite Democratic President Barack Obama to speak until he agreed to water down the Affordable Care Act?

I think it would have been wiser for Ms. Pelosi to let Mr. Trump deliver the State of the Union in the traditional manner, with Democrats providing a rebuttal in a suitably impressive setting (I can’t believe they couldn’t find one) immediately thereafter. Mr. Obama, significantly more popular than his successor, would seem the obvious choice to deliver such a response.

Perhaps as great a danger of Mr. Trump’s presidency as the lies and hate he spews is the way he has taken us to the tops of so many slippery slopes.

2 thoughts on “On Delaying the State of the Union Address

  1. Jim, I generally agree with your thoughts on this. I believe it is a mistake to give up customary courtesy in the light of the Trump presidency, such as disinviting the president from speaking in the House. The lack of courtesy will be returned next time a Republican controlled House is faced with a Democrat president and it will be deserved. Bad manners (and, obviously, policy disputes) should not be met with bad manners.

    One other thing-I believe use of Nazi similes (the Wall is like The Swastika) are neither accurate, nor helpful. From what I can observe, while I am opposed to building a wall from Atlantic to Pacific, it is not evidence of a country on a militaristic rampage across the continent nor do I see 6 1/2 million Jews and others being murdered. I don’t see the press being closed or oppressed (check out all the news channels and the internet and tell there is ANY restrictions on the press). As for Trump’s policies, while I believe they are for wrong, labeling anyone who agrees with them “Nazis” is unhelpful and inaccurate. It is merely calling people names, is inaccurate, demonizes people, and adds to the divide between left and right, town and country.

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    1. Hey — will reflect on your comment regarding Nazi analogies; as I suspect you know, I’m not concerned about the wall per se — we’ve undoubtedly spent hundreds of billions over the years on initiatives at least no less pointless — but because of the symbolism that Trump, through his messaging, has attached to it. We may, for the first time ;), reasonably differ (when I tell Chris that you disagree with me, she will immediately conclude that you are right). Our best to Judy.

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